Digital Marketing

3 Things Marketers Can Learn From Teenagers

badge-guest-post-FLATTERI came across an Inc. article by Abigail Tracy recently with a brilliant Seth Godin quote in it.

When asked how companies can become more effective at marketing, he said, “Start by understanding that no one cares about them. People care about themselves.

Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are–it is a token, it is a badge.

It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.

I love that. It’s completely, utterly the truth in one perfect little sound bite.

I’m a single parent of two teens, and this quote instantly made me think of teenagers and their built-in narcissism. If it’s true that nobody cares about anything but themselves, perhaps we haven’t come far from our high school days. I don’t think it’s a universal truth about people in general, but it definitely resonates with brands and how people feel about them. They. Just. Don’t. Care.

Your brand means absolutely nothing to anyone. Unless you give people a reason to care.

What do marketing and teenagers have in common? A lot. In fact, it’s hilarious just how similar they are.

1. The World Revolves Around Me

My sixteen year old daughter is wonderful. But like every teenage girl on the planet, her life is fraught with drama. She thinks nothing of raiding Mom’s wallet for whatever cash might be found, interrupting my workday three times demanding chauffeur service because her life is obviously so much more important than mine, and “borrowing” everything from my hairspray to that new makeup brush and MAC eyeliner I hadn’t even had a chance to use yet. In a teen, it’s natural – even expected.

It’s interruption marketing at its best, but in this case, the product is her. This kind of attitude no longer has a place in marketing.

If your conversations and strategies don’t revolve around understanding your end customers and target prospects, and THEIR needs, it’s time to graduate from high school and grow up. Separate the “me, me, me” and “us against the world” attitudes, dump them in that circular file and close the lid.

As marketers, we have been taught over decades to be completely self-centered in our approach. How do we sell product? How can we get them to our website? How can we cram our message down their throats and make them take action?

While certain aspects of promotion remain this way, it’s time to let go of making it about the brand, in favor of making it about everyone else. Perhaps this is why some people insist there is a vast chasm between marketing and public relations – as a way to separate which side of the fence they are on.

Me? I don’t care about labels or departments. I care about results and working together to make incredible things happen. But as Seth says, it’s time to realize nobody cares about you unless you give them a reason to care.

2. Bullies Rule the Playground

In middle school and the first year of high school, my daughter had to deal with some horrific bullying and cyber-stalking issues. The things I’ve had to learn are a bit horrifying and the impact on her was monumental.

Surviving high school requires dealing with bullies at school and online. It’s the sad truth, regardless of all the warm, fuzzy anti-bullying claims shared by our school districts. Unless it happens directly in front of a teacher who notices it when a thousand other things are demanding his/her attention, they can’t do a thing about it.

In some ways, marketing and advertising materials are like the bully in the room.

You will see my ad in front of what you want to read.

You will be forced to watch my video in your Facebook stream until you turn it off.

You will get my emails until you unsubscribe.

You will have to leaf through more ads than content in your magazine.

You will, you will, you will.

Push marketing is the bully in the room, shoving itself under your nose until you do something to move it out of your way.

A certain amount of push marketing in the overall mix can be very effective in capturing attention, as long as it is done with care, sensitivity, and creativity (especially pop-ups).

3. Obsession With What Other People Think

With the exception of my metal head, bass-playing musician son who beats me hands-down on the stubborn scale and doesn’t give a fig about what he wears, most teenagers revolve almost every decision they make around how they look and what other people will think.

Isn’t that marketing in a nutshell? Image, branding, creative, publicity, and PR… Almost everything we do for marketing is based on the assumption that we want to capture attention, create buzz, and sell something.

But unlike teenagers, who are set free once they realize what other people think just doesn’t matter and that they should follow their own path, our success is completely determined by what other people think. It’s called branding.

And our reputation has a massive impact on sales.

4. Attack of the Clones

Like teenagers, many brands are clones of others in their industry. But while teenagers are desperate to fit in, it’s the lazy side of marketing that drives “me, too” similarities.

Companies can’t or won’t invest what it takes to understand their customers and their industry, so they look to their competitor and emulate what they are doing. It’s an epidemic.

It would be one thing if they chose to emulate a company doing a great job and effectively creating ROI. But instead, they simply choose who they like. It’s a subjective decision that doesn’t truly move their product or service forward. It’s like going from lame to acceptable, instead of good to great.

You may have noticed that I mentioned 3 things that marketers and teenagers have in common, but there are 4 things listed here. This was intentional.

Teenagers are extremely fickle beings who frequently change their mind. And in their haste to launch and massively overload their timelines, aren’t marketing pros likely to make mistakes as well? Eureka! Another thing in common.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appears on

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  1. says

    Good stuff, Carrie! Loved what you said about it being all about the customer. I’ve heard that so many times, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget it. Marketers get wrapped up in our own little worlds just like everyone else.

    • says

      We do, indeed! But there is a way to get what we need without being completely self-centered about it, as marketers have done in the past. That’s one of the things I love the most about how our industry is changing.

  2. says

    This is the best description of how to market I’ve read in a long time

    I will add that when you read this post and think “that doesn’t apply to me” (you know who you are ) I say IT DOES APPLY

    And especially if you, you boss, your no -profit board, you investor or you accountant says “our message is too important” I say NO. THGIS APPIES TO YOU.

    And I hear you muttering under your breath about how much money you’ve made from the old way, I’ll remind you the SPAMMERS MAKE MONEY TOO. (Yes, I went there)

    Listen to Carrie.

  3. Rebecca Maschke says

    I realise you might be exaggerating for the sake of this post, but:

    Your daughter steals money from your wallet? She demands you drive her everywhere? And you think this is natural and expected??! Sorry, but it’s not!

  4. Ruth Zive says

    4 things to learn, not 3 :). I have four teenagers in my house (and one more moving up the ranks). This is a great comparison. I’m going to run with your analogy and add one more little tidbit. As we move out of those awful teenage years, what we often find is that the kids that were the most grounded, the most focused, the most steady in their approach to life, are the ones who fare best. The kids who experimented too much, who didn’t take their efforts seriously, who didn’t really apply themselves or follow their dreams…those kids struggle as they move into adulthood. I would say the same is true of marketing. Stay the course. It’s not a flash in the pan. You need to really commit and do the heavy lifting if you want to see results.

  5. says

    I really like the way you spot some similarities between marketers and teenagers. As a marketer, we always have to remember that people will always look for a product or service that would answer their need. If we apply this mindset to our strategy, marketing our brand will be easier.

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